By Bishop Alberto Rojas
Dear friends, sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, through which Divine life is given. There are Seven Sacraments of the New Law in our Catholic tradition: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony and Holy Orders. Baptism is the first Sacrament we receive, and it is required for our salvation.
Christ Jesus initiated Baptism by being baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River (Matthew 3:13). He tells the disciples, “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3:5). Our Risen Lord says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). He tells the apostles, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).
As we can see, “the Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this Sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why She takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are ‘reborn of water and the Spirit. ‘God has bound salvation to the Sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his Sacraments’(CCC-1257).”
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, this means that while we can be certain that God always works through the Sacraments when they are properly conferred by the minister, God is not bound by the Sacraments in that He can and does extend His grace in whatever measure and manner He wills.
Every Sacrament must include its Form and Matter, and nothing can be changed, otherwise it will not be valid. In the case of Baptism, the Form is the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” which are said as the water is poured upon the person, or as the person is immersed in water. And the Matter is the water itself. So, when the minister says, “I baptize you...”, it is in the person of Jesus that he baptizes, not in his own initiative nor in the name of the community. In making this clarification, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith referred to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which reminded us that no one, “even if he be a priest, may add, remove or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”
The Catholic Church only accepts baptisms from other Christian faith communities that use the proper Form and Matter of the Sacrament. Again, Sacraments are outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification. They are efficacious in that, when Sacraments are celebrated worthily in faith, they confer the grace they signify – they do what they say, and Christ Himself is at work (CCC-1127).
The efficacious signs of baptism are clearly seen. Because of the fault of our first parents, we are all born with the stain of original sin. This stain does not allow us to live in right relationship with God even though we were created for that purpose.
Since the fault, God has continually been calling His people back to Himself. And at last, through the Paschal Mystery and the institution of the Sacrament of Baptism, we can remove the stain of original sin and be made clean again, becoming children of God.